Thursday, November 30, 2023

ect In This Moment: Authenticity is the Word of the Year for 2023, What Happens the Day After the War Ends?


In This Moment

Yediot headline: "Mia and Bella Return Home"

Hostage Mia Leimberg, 17, spent 53 days in captivity with her dog Bella. Until they emerged together following Mia's release, the dog had been presumed to be gone.

The Day After

The focus has now turned to how do we get out of this mess? What will things look like the day after the guns have been silenced? One thing most Israelis agree on is that Hamas will not be running Gaza on the morning after. But how will Israelis gain the security they need and Gazans and other Palestinians the glimpse of a more hopeful future? Will that future include two states?

Here are some early contributions to this growing genre. Think tanks will be working overtime and hopefully will come up with ideas that reflect the changed realities and don't just rehash ideas from before-times (before Oct. 7) that are no longer feasible.

  • Anshel Pfeffer of Ha'aretz concurs, adding that in order to bring any Arab country into a peacekeeping effort, like UAE or Morocco, who have professional armies and relations with Israel, the Israeli government will need to return to an acceptance of an eventual two-state solution and a "diplomatic horizon" to entice the P.A. And then there are the Saudis, who would be expected to foot the bill – both for such a force and also for the long-term civilian rehabilitation and development programs in Gaza, to be administered by the returning PA.

  • The Institute for National Security Studies assesses that the Gulf States, minus Qatar, the Gulf states share the goal of ending Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip, weakening the Iranian-led axis, and dealing a blow to Muslim Brotherhood ideology. Regarding “the day after,” INSS states, "it is possible they would be willing to be part of an effort to bring stability to the Gaza Strip, within a strategic reality whereby Hamas is stripped of its military and governmental capabilities, the United States retains an active role in the region, and the Israeli-Palestinian political process is renewed."

I came across two essays by noteworthy Israelis that go beyond the perfunctory predictions and share some bold and perhaps controversial ideas. Ariel Sharon's son Gilad shared his in Yediot Achronot, and Michael Oren shared his in Sapir.

Oren writes:

That day begins, first, with Gaza’s demilitarization. No more rockets, rocket factories, or underground arsenals. All the weaponry in the hands of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad must be confiscated and destroyed. The entire tunnel system, all 300 miles of it, must be sealed, cracked, and buried. Gaza must never again serve as a launching pad for any projectile of any caliber at the people of Israel. Concurrently with demilitarization, Gaza must also be separated from Israel by a cordon sanitaire of between one and two kilometers in depth. Apart from IDF patrols, no one will be allowed to enter this no-man’s-land. No one, certainly, will be able to approach the border.

At the bottom is Sharon's full article in Hebrew; his own brief summary, in translation is in this posting.

Words that Matter I:

2023's Word of the Year


"Authentic," Merriam-Webster "Word of the Year," is making a comeback, and it can save us all

To be Jewish is to be radically authentic.

We must stand up for the primacy of the real.

One quote from the the A.P. article above is particularly jarring:

Can we trust whether a student wrote this paper? Can we trust whether a politician made this statement? We don’t always trust what we see anymore. We sometimes don’t believe our own eyes or our own ears. We are now recognizing that authenticity is a performance itself.

We don't know what to believe anymore. And that was the world that existed before October 7. Before we were bombarded with more misinformation than has ever been seen before in a time of war. Think how shocked we were that the New York Times actually believed Hamas statements about the supposed Israeli attack on that hospital, an accusation that proved to be false. We were so shocked because for us now, everything is suspect. we no longer trust any source of information to be real. Maybe skepticism is a good thing. But not when all trust is gone. A post-truth era is not sustainable.

But the Merriam-Webster decision points to a larger issue. When the embers of this conflagration die down, when the fighting gives way, as it inevitably will, to intense negotiating over the future of the region, we will need to turn our attention once again to the existential dilemmas posed by a world increasingly governed by artificiality, stained by the eclipse of what is real. The A.I. revolution didn't stop when Hamas invaded Israel, it just took on new forms.

But, in a surprising bit of good news, in the face of a deep-fake world, authenticity is reasserting itself. Many ascribe it to the authentic personas of public figures like Taylor Swift and President Biden.

Evidently, according to, "radical authenticity" is surging even in the world of American dining. One of Esquire Magazine's choices of for 50 best new restaurants in America for 2023 fits that definition perfectly, and it happens to be the first kosher restaurant so honored. Here is Esquire's review of Lehrhaus in Somerville, Mass.

I’ve been to thousands of restaurants in the past couple of years, but I hadn’t truly felt at home until I walked into Lehrhaus, a Jewish tavern and house of learning. Maybe it was the Lactaid dispenser. Maybe it was the mural of Leonard Cohen above the hand dryer in the men’s room. Or the conversation at the bar: Henry James on one side, refundability of plane tickets to Miami on the other. Could have been the Samsonian bartender’s “Nazi Lives Don’t Matter” T-shirt or the mensch-seeks-mensch meetup in the library. More than likely it was the food—chef Alex Artinian’s and chef Noah Clickstein's celebration of Jewish diasporic cuisine. Both Ashkenazim and Sephardim are represented. Deviled eggs, haminados-style, are aged in coffee and topped with pickled mustard seeds. A herring tartine comes with the bright spice of pickled peppers alongside the silvery fish. A golden fish-and-chips made with day-boat-caught pollack and accompanied by amba vinegar, a s’chug aioli, and Old Bay seasoning seems secular. But as the Talmudic menu informs, Old Bay was invented by Gustav Brunn, a Jewish German refugee, in 1939. It is both delicious and a revelation.

What can be more Jewishly authentic than Kosher cooking with a side of Torah study?

I spoke about authenticity on in a sermon on Rosh Hashanah. Now, with Israel and Zionism under constant attack, even by Jews, we need to remind ourselves and the attackers just what is at the core of the system of beliefs and values that have sustained our people for so many centuries. And that core consists of authenticity and truth, and the cultivation of our most human qualities.

As I mentioned in that sermon, with our world careening from one radical change to the next, this is our moment of truth. We need to cling to what is human and what is real, or we may lose it forever.


For in fact, artificial intelligence as just a very large and dangerous tip of a much larger iceberg.

We must stand up for the primacy of the real.

It’s interesting that the modern Hebrew word “artificial,” (Melachuti) comes from the biblical word “Melacha,” which means “creative work,” the kind of work done by God in fashioning the universe, and that work that was ceased on Shabbat. Meanwhile, the work done by humans who were imitating God in building God’s sanctuary in the wilderness, is also called MelachaMelacha is godlike work, but when people engage in it in construction the sanctuary, they are not actually creating a cosmos, but an artificial facsimile of it, the shadow of a cosmos, the Genesis Creation in miniature. The name of chief artist who built the sanctuary in the Wilderness, Betzalel, actually means, “In the shadow of God.” 

Melacha is what humans do when we are playing God, like angels do – and the word for angel is Mal-ach. There’s nothing wrong with imitating the divine, as long as neither we nor our creations are elevated to divine status. In fact, we are God’s masterpiece and we can’t duplicate that – and there must be safeguards to prevent us from trying. 

Because it’s literally playing with fire, and kindling fire is the first Melacha mentioned in the Torah's listing of this godlike work. Starting a fire can be immensely creative or immensely destructive, and either way, that’s why it’s prohibited on Shabbat. God models for us that there are times when we must cease and desist our creative work, lest we go too far. Aaron’s two sons did just that, as Leviticus reminds us, when they were playing with “strange fire” near the sanctuary and they were consumed by it.


Perhaps that “strange fire” is artificial intelligence.

In that Rosh Hashanah sermon, I recalled my first encountering Martin Buber’s I and Thou in college, in a class that changed my life, taught, ironically, by an applied mathematician, who was also a great humanist, Professor George Morgan.

Buber wrote about being true to who we are, so that we might reach out and meet our neighbor with complete authenticity. Relationships and professional roles cannot be contrived, fabricated, planned, calculated, or programmed. True relationship cannot be “artificial.” Paradoxically the most difficult of all things to achieve, is to be, simply, oneself. 


I have always looked at religion from the prism of the humanities, not as doctrine but as lived experience, not as something supernatural, but something very down to earth.


Lo Bashamayim hee – it says in Deuteronomy. “It’s not in the heavens.” “This thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart.”


Religion is right here – in your heart. That’s what’s real – and our sacred wisdom reminds us of precisely that.


We are not in the business of keeping a dying religion on life support just because it’s been around for a few thousand years and some people feel guilty about eating a lobster roll. It’s been around so long because it helped human beings who happen to be Jewish to become better human beings. It has helped us to make the world a better place, for all people. To be Jewish, in other words, is to be fully human. To be fully human is to be fully engaged with the universe and with the epic saga of unfolding Creation. 

To be Jewish is to be radically authentic, trusting and being trustworthy, being fully present and true to our commitments, trusting sources of inherited and inner wisdom. Jews are covenantal beings. We are tethered to something greater than ourselves. That is what keeps it - and us - real.


Perhaps we’ve grown to intuit this difference between the virtual and the real. Perhaps that is why people keep on coming back to their houses of worship, to find guidance as we engage in God’s sacred labor. If we can be the locus of the real, that point of light where “I” meets “Thou,” we will be fulfilling a sacred mission that we are uniquely qualified to do.


And perhaps that, in the end, will save Judaism, as it guides us through that most dehumanizing of locales, the real-life battlefields of Gaza. And if through all this, through the fighting and infighting, the real suffering and the propaganda, the feverish emotions and those few moments of measured reflection, if we can just cling to the ideal of our common humanity, that we are all created in God's image, we can get through this. If Israel can thread that needle that separates machismo from menschlichkeit, maybe we can win this war on our terms.

If we do not allow ourselves to fall victim to dehumanizing the other, turning the other into an object, a facsimile of the human - even when the other acts in barbaric, inhuman ways - we will have taken the first step toward a real victory and toward the eventual possibility of real peace.

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Tomorrow's Headlines Today

Jerusalem Post

Ha'aretz (English)

Yediot Achronot

Headline below: "The First Smile"

and below that, "Waiting for Them. Still."

Recommended Reading

Senator Schumer's landmark speech on antisemitism and Israel delivered from the Senate floor. Excerpts below:

  • Now is the time to contact representatives as crucial votes approach. Thank them for their continued support of Israel, let them know this is not the time for a cease fire, encourage them to call for the release of all hostages, and to stand up against rising antisemitism. Per AJC: We know that our Members of Congress are being inundated with emails and calls in opposition to these measures. They need to hear from YOU, and your networks NOW! You may send an email through the AJC Action Alert:

  • Clean Cars Campaign - These regulations are really critical. If CT doesn't adopt them, we will be leaving the Clean Cars program, which will place us well behind the rest of our region in offering clean transportation, reducing air pollution, and fighting climate change.  Contact your lawmaker - click here for more information.

Archived Digest of "In This Moment" for November:

Earliest Dates at Bottom

"In This Moment" for October:

Words that Matter II

Nov. 29, 1947: U.N. Partition and the Jewish People's

"Historical Connection with "Palestine"

Words that Matter III:

Brandeis University's Full Page Ad in the Boston Globe

Words That Matter IV: Esau's Kiss

Why are there dots over this word in our Torah portion (and visible in every Torah scroll)? The word, from Genesis 33:4, is "And he kissed him," referring to Esau ending his blood feud with Jacob. Rashi comments: Dots are placed above the letters of this word, and a difference of opinion is expressed in the Baraitha of Sifré (בהעלותך) as to what these dots are intended to suggest: some explain the dotting as meaning that he did not kiss him with his whole heart, whereas R Simeon the son of Johai said: Is it not well-known that Esau hated Jacob? But at that moment his pity was really aroused and he kissed him with his whole heart. So was Esau's smooch a "true love's kiss" or a kiss of death? We don't know, but the question that arises from this is whether every kiss is a little bit of both? See more in the Parsha Packet"Waging Peace."

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Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

(see Gilad Sharon article below)

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